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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is on at the Library Theatre until March, and takes an alternative look at the Shakespeare classic, Hamlet.

Published on February 7th 2007.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Chris Honer

Tom Stoppard’s classic comedy follows two of Hamlet’s minor characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and turns them into the unlikely protagonists of their own story.

The outcome of their story however (their deaths) was already decided by one Will Shakespeare over 400 years ago, so the play explores the idea of death, fate and chance within the already laid down constricts of Hamlet’s plot.

In Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern feature as peripheral characters called upon to find out what is troubling Hamlet, and later escort him to England for his execution. In this play however, the major characters of Hamlet are glimpsed only occasionally when their paths cross with that of our heroes, who for the most part are lingering around the Danish court pondering the nature of their existence and squabbling with a troupe of players.

This play explores the same themes as Hamlet related to identity and the idea of man as the locus of his own destiny rather than a helpless victim of circumstance – although the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, while they do discuss the possibility of turning away from what they see as the path laid out before them, never actually do stray (and could not, since their fates are already written) from their predetermined course and instead simply lay down and accept what becomes them.

Leigh Symonds returns to the Library Theatre as Rosencrantz, while his on stage partner in fate is played by offstage pal Graeme Hawley. The chemistry between the two is priceless, their banter being enjoyable and natural, and their friendship believable – adding depth to characters whose existence is essentially meaningless.

RSC veteran Michael Jenn as The Player adds a touch of thespy brilliance to the production, and has a presence on stage that over the course of the run will blow the dust away from the ancient books in the library above.

A large supporting cast play the characters of Hamlet, Ophelia, Polonius, the King and Queen of Denmark and a troupe of bawdy players.

Dawn Allsopp’s simple yet effective set thankfully does little to detract from the substantial wordplay, with a stark, stripped wooden stage being framed by a giant gilt picture frame – suggestive of the play-within-a-play nature of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and containing the action of the characters whose stories are already fixed.

Rosencrantz and Guildentern are on a train – and while they are free to move around in their carriage and look out of the window at the passing scenery, the train can never veer off the tracks that Shakespeare built 400 years ago, and chugs on instead to its inevitable destination.

But at least they - and we - get to have fun along the way and enjoy some first class drama from one of Manchester’s leading theatres.

This rich play is a feast for any scholar or fan of Shakespeare. And for anyone who’s never picked up Hamlet in their life, just make sure that you read the basic plot summary provided in the Library Theatre’s programme beforehand, otherwise things may get slightly confusing.

Jayne Robinson

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
The Library Theatre
Until 10th March
www.librarytheatre.com

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